Imagine that you are walking down a road and you come across a man standing under a tree, red-faced with closed eyes and looking like he is concentrating very hard. When you ask him if he is okay, he explains that he’s trying to get his Frisbee out of the tree. Bewildered, you ask him to repeat himself. He tells you that he believes that when people think about something hard enough, it will come true. You state that thinking will not move anything and recommend the use of a ladder instead. He says, “No, thinking will solve everything. If you take that belief as your starting place, you’re going to have a lot of success in the world.” You tell him that his beliefs are baseless and he needs a “starting place” that is rooted in observable reality. You continue walking and find a woman in a field pulling up grass with her hands. You ask her what she is doing. She says that she is pulling grass in order to travel to Dreamland. Noticing your puzzled expression, she explains that her parents taught her that if she spent most of her time pulling grass, she would one day be transported to Dreamland, where all her dreams will come true. Naturally, you have several questions, such as where and how does this place exist, by what means does one travel there, and how her parents know about it. She says, “If my parents’ story really is true, that's my presupposition or axiom, and I am starting there.” You are shocked that someone could “presuppose” such a story, but feeling that you can’t change her mind, you just keep walking.
Yes, the above is a silly, thinly-veiled criticism of religion, but here is the substantial point: if someone were actually to consider any such beliefs as an “axiom” or “starting place” in their thoughts, how could you convince them they are wrong? Any contradiction by science or reality would be overruled by their presuppositions, since those are what form the basis of their thoughts! I think I said it best in the Individual Valuism main text (August 2006):
The deepest trap of religion is convincing people to allow their thoughts to be based in a “higher” reality. Once someone is in this trap, he is able to rationalize any mistake, inconsistency, or contradiction. He is not worried about logic, causality, or physical evidence. The foundation of his knowledge of reality is “above” such things! But where does a person obtain this knowledge of higher powers, anyway? Someone tells him that it is true? He “feels” that it is true? He has some ancient stories proclaiming it is true? Are those good reasons, or are they the same reasons everyone from every religion in history would give? These are examples of how people everywhere accept the supernatural without reason, and it only results in them losing touch with truth and becoming attached to fiction.
If someone just supposes that God exists, for example, there is nothing that could challenge that belief, since everything that happens is viewed in the context of the omnipotent God wanting it to be that way! Even if the belief could be shown to be baseless, conflicting with what is observable, or logically impossible, it would persist because it is considered an axiom.
This article was inspired by quotes from two different
people about the
Museum founder Ken Ham is even more obvious. “If the Bible is the word of God, and its history really is true, that's our presupposition or axiom, and we are starting there.”[ii] Let’s check the dictionary:
1. To believe or suppose in advance.
2. To require or involve necessarily as an antecedent condition. See Synonyms at presume.
1. A self-evident or universally recognized truth; a maxim.
2. An established rule, principle, or law.
3. A self-evident principle or one that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument; a postulate.
Requiring no proof or explanation.
In other words, the man that has inspired over twenty million dollars in donations and intends to open a museum educating the public about the origin of life has just said the following: 1) He believes in the truth of the Bible in advance of reason. 2) Anything else he believes must conform to this preceding belief in the Bible. 3) He believes the Bible requires no proof or explanation. 4) He accepts the Bible as true without proof and uses it as the basis for his arguments. This is a long ways from science in my book.
When fantasy is contradicted by material evidence, the result is often rationalization. In the article, Ham said, “We're going to show you that we can make sense of the different people groups, we can make sense of fossils, we can make sense of what you see in the world.” In other words, he’s going to put his spin on everything. He’s going to ignore all branches of science that he finds unacceptable, and instead give “answers” that fit to his automatically-accepted mythology. When science and fallacious “axioms” collide in the minds of fools, the preconceptions always win. How could they lose? They’re self-evident!
[i] Yonke, David. "